Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Arsenal 1 Mancester United 1

Our end-of-the-season beach party on this day had been moved from the Playa Flamenca beach to our bar, Las Mimosa Bar, due to uncertain weather. By the time the match kicked off, we were already in the party mood despite the weather outside.

Several issues regarding this match grabbed the headlines in the build-up. We welcomed the Club's decision to form the guard of honour because it is part of English football tradition and doing things properly has always been Arsenal way, especially in light of the fact that Man U did the ceremony for us in 1991. As for the reception of our former captain, who returned to the Emirates for the first time since his departure for our old rivals, we were not much bothered. We cheered for his misses, but no more than for other Man U players. That said, it was amusing to see RVP getting booed at the Emirates. The newspapers try to blow this issue out of proportion. Some players still get booed when they come to the Emirates only because they have once played for Tottenham.

Much more importantly, our focus of pre-match talks was on who would replace our main striker, Olivier Giroud, in the wake of his three-match ban. We suspected it would be either Poldi or Theo. After some experiment, we doubted that Gervinho would get another chance. The boss's choice for this day was Lukas Podolski. This was his second start in the central striking role since the very first game of the season against Sunderland. The other change was Kieran Gibbs replacing Nacho Monreal. Since the last game against Fulham, Nacho has fallen out of our favour slightly as a first-choice left-back, so we were happy with the selection.

Our hope was that Man U might have lost their focus and will to win after securing the top spot in the table on Monday night. They didn't play exceptionally well all through the season, but their desire kept earning points for them, when it mattered. Sir Alex Ferguson also suggested that he would rotate his team to give his young players a run-out before the end of the season and rest a couple of players who played through injuries on Monday night. The papers even speculated that RVP would start from the bench to avoid unnecessary jeering from the home supporters now the Manchester club had won the title. So much for the rotation. SAF kept his star players in the starting XI.

Arsenal started the game strongly, pressing their opposition high up the pitch, led by Rosicky and Ramsey. Our midfield was superior. In the second minute, Theo Walcott was clinical in a one-on-one situation with De Gea after having been released behind the Man U defence line by Rosicky's incisive pass. With their superb record so far this season for holding on to leads, this was a great start for Arsenal. Arsenal were clearly the better side for half an hour, but a second goal never arrived. We all knew that you have to score when you are on top. Arsenal had a great chance when they broke away against outnumbered Man U defence, but Aaron Ramsey chose to pass left to Poldi, when Walcott was unmarked on the right.

Then, the pivotal moment of the game came in the 44th minute. Sagna dithered on the ball, inviting pressure from a Man U player. As a result, he opted for a back pass to Mertesacker. Van Persie intercepted the poor pass and continued his run towards the box. Some blame Mertesacker for not doing enough to prevent it, but it was always obvious that Sagna would foul Van Persie from the time he made that mistake.

We are very disappointed to concede a goal in the way we did. We thought Arsenal eradicated this kind of mistakes since they found new defensive stability.

A 1-1 draw wouldn't have been a bad result against the champions under normal circumstances. In fact, quite a few of us expected nothing more than a loss, unlike those pundits who predicted that the newly-crowned champions would be already on holiday. We would have happily taken a draw against Man U before the match or any day, but after seeing us so close to get all three points and Man U nothing better than mediocre, the result felt like two points dropped to us.

On the positive side, our performance certainly suggested we could match the champions and this will do no harm to our confidence, going into the remaining three games. Chelsea's win over Swansea earlier the same day sent us down to fourth in the table. Fortunately, Tottenham dropped two points against Wigan on Saturday (In fact, they were lucky not to drop the whole three points as they scored an equaliser in the 89th minute from a free-kick which shouldn't have been). As a result, we remained two points clear of them, but with a game played more.

Technically our fate is not in our hands anymore. If the other two London clubs won all of their remaining games, but Chelsea lose to Tottenham, we will miss out on Champions League spots. However, Chelsea have tough fixtures to play with one eye on the European League glory, while Tottenham's performance against Wigan raised a lot of questions as to whether they have the steel to finish in the top four. Time will tell whether we dropped two points or earned a point from this match, but our performance and commitment this day and our recent form suggest that we can finish in the top four.

Player ratings

Szczesny: 7
His save of Van Persie's point-black header was arguably a match decider. He was brave and didn't put foot wrong throughout the game.

Sagna: 5
His mistake cost us the points. Lucky to stay on the pitch after his lunge at Evra in the second half.

Mertesacker: 7
The two centre-backs combined kept Van Persie and Roony quiet to limit their shots to just 5 (4 on target) between them.

Koscielny: 8
Superb display. He kept Rooney very quiet and tried to win the ball as high up the pitch as possible. Arsenal fans' Man of the Match with 34% of total votes.

Gibbs: 7
Good going forward. He should have been given a penalty for Rio Ferdinand's body check on him in the box. Also, his run into the box earned a free-kick just outside the Man U box (Resulting Santi's free-kick was rather disappointing, though). Although Valencia was allowed to exploit on that flank, Gibbs coped with it relatively well (or he just got away with it thanks to Valencia's poor crossing?).

Ramsey: 7
His final ball (whether a shot or pass) let him down, but a good box-to-box performance. If Phil Jones is Sky Sports' Man of the Match, we think Ramsey did as well as his counterpart did (Jones was equally wasteful in front of goal), if not better. According to Arsenal.com, he was a runner-up in the Man of the Match poll after collecting 21% of votes. 

Arteta: 7
As reliable as usual, but his passing success rate was a mere 84%, rather disappointing by his high standard. (Lower than Sagna's 86%, believe it or not). In fact, the team's overall success rate was lower than usual at 80%. He was excellent alongside his fellow midfielders in the first half.

Rosicky: 7
Set up a goal for Walcott. His curled effort just missed the target, but showed his technical ability and class. His withdrawal raised many fans' eyebrows as he was one of our best players on the pitch. It just goes to show that Wenger's substitutions lack imagination and ruthlessness. He just slotted another player into the place of an interchangeable player. On the other hand, SAF took off his underperforming right-back. The Czech midfielder came third in the Arsenal.com's Man of the Match poll with 19% of votes.

Cazorla: 7
Came close to score goals on several occasions. One of his attempt was denied by a good save from De Gea.

Walcott: 7
Scored the opener in the 2nd minute. We admit that he was in an offside position, but his finish was exceptional.

Podolski: 6
Helped the midfield by dropping deep in the first half. Became ineffective in the second half, hence substitution. 


Wilshere: 6
61st-minute substitute for Rosicky. Didn't change the game, but wasn't a downgrade from excellent Rosicky.

Gervinho: 6
Came on in the 72nd minute to replace Podolski. Looked dangerous at times.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 6

79th-minute substitute for Ramsey. Booked for his challenge. Made a crucial touch on Giggs' late attempt to divert it.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Fulham 0 Arsenal 1

We were so disappointed with our team's performance it felt like a defeat after the game. However, a win is a win and it turned out to be an even more important win after Sunday's results for our top-four-finish rivals. We were not happy with the team's display, but delighted to take all the three points from this game.

Wenger made two changes to the side who started in a midweek draw with Everton. Monreal replaced Gibbs, who played two games in four days and was taken off at the end of normal time on Tuesday night due to fatigue. Tomas Rosicky came in for Jack Wilshere. Wenger defended his decision by stating that Jack needed a rest, but it was a right decision as Jack had not been as sharp as we hoped him to be in the last couple of games. Fabianski was still nursing his rib injury, so Wojciech continued in goal.

One of the talking points prior to the match was whether Wenger would continue fielding Giroud up front despite the French striker's wastefulness in the Everton game. The boss decided to stick to that option.

The key moment of the game came in the 12th minute, when Sidwell was sent off for his lunge at Mikel Arteta. We couldn't believe our luck. Fulham always give us a hard game, especially at Craven Cottage but everybody at Las Mimosas bar thought this afternoon would be a walk in the park for a change, so much so that Tony went on to place a bet for a 3-0 win in favour of Arsenal.

But the Gunners didn't make most of their numerical advantage. If anything, they played much better when they were playing against 11 men. We started the game on front foot with Walcott's shot on goal and Koscielny's header both flagged offside. After Fulham were reduced to 10 men, they didn't give us much space and we struggled to break down their defence.

We were all frustrated. We should have been able to tear apart a 10-men team. Thanks to the lapse in their concentration, the combination of our centre-backs found the back of the net in 2 minutes from break.

Second-half was even worse. The Gunners were sloppy and their passing was not fluid. Maybe the exertion in midweek took its toll. In fact, Everton suffered more than us from the aftermath of the clash as they lost their Man of the Match on Tuesday, Phil Jagielka, to injury and succumbed to a 1-0 defeat to Sunderland at the Stadium of the Light on the same day.

We managed to weather tremendous pressure from our opponents and their fans towards the end of the game and grabbed a narrow win. It wasn't an easy-on-the-eye display from the Gunners, but the result is all that matters at this time of the season.

Now Giroud will start serving his three-match ban following his appeal for the red card rejected. It is a blow as it limits our strike option. On the other hand, those critics of the French striker would say it is a blessing in disguise. This could speed up Wenger's project with Podoski or lead to another chance for Walcott to play up front. In anycase, losing Giroud for the next three games will force the boss to change the current system, which was not working against Fulham.

We have a whole week to regroup ourselves and prepare for the next match. Hopefully, we will play much better than in this game.

On the positive side, we kept another clean sheet for the second game running. In fact, we only conceded three goals in the last 7 games. The central defensive partnership looked solid, even producing a goal. Per and the Kosh seemed to have developed good understanding between them.

The crucial win moved us back to third place. After Chelsea's draw and Tottenham's win (which was a big blow), we are now a point above Chelsea and two points ahead of Spurs, but both of them have a game in hand. We hope to think that Manchester United's securing the top spot on Monday will help us next Sunday. Before the weekend, the next match had been deemed as a write-off by many Arsenal fans, but Tottenham's shock defeat of Man City changed the landscape. Now we need to get something out of this game. The race for Champions League spots goes on.

Player ratings

Szczesny: 7
Produced some very good saves.

Sagna: 7
Solid defensively, but didn't offer very much going forward. Seems unable to cross the ball.

Mertesacker: 8
Scored the only goal of the game. Solid defensively. Arsenal fans' Man of the Match.

Koscielny: 8
Provided an assist. Solid apart from the unfortunate slip, which nearly gave us a heart attack. 

Monreal: 5
He was beaten every time Fulham attacked on that flank. Robbed by Emmanuelson, whose shot nearly caught out Szczesny at near post.

Ramsey: 7
Missed a sitter in stoppage time, but he covered the entire pitch and worked hard as usual.

Arteta: 7
Made 5 tackles, 4 interceptions and 113 passes with a 92% passing success rate. Seems to be pundits' Man of the Match. 

Rosicky: 6
Some good play, but had little impact on the game.

Cazorla: 7
Got involved in attacking moves.

Walcott: 6
Started brightly, but didn't do very much afterwards. Caught offside three times. His free-kick contributed to the goal, though.

Giroud: 5
Unlucky not to score after being fed by Cazorla. His shot hit the post and bounced off. Sent off in stoppage time in an unnecessary challenge. The Daily Mail compared him with Berbatov, who was a star of the reverse fixture this season and Wenger was grilled by the media with a question why he didn't sign the Bulgarian striker. In every aspect of the game, from attitude to finishing, Giroud came on top of Berbatov. 


Wilshere: 7
71st-minute substitute for Rosicky. Looked a little bit sharper than recent games. Delivered a great pass to Ramsey, who dragged it wide.

Podolski: 6
71st-minute substitute for Walcott. Made little impact.

Vermaelen: 6

Injury-time substitute for Cazorla. He was brought on in order to prop up the defence and see out the win in the wake of the sending-off of Giroud.


Andre Mariner: 5
After sending Sidwell off, which was a correct decision, he seemed to have been always looking for chances to even things out. Ramsey and Arteta received yellow cards for their challenges, while similar fouls by Enoh and Emmanuelson escaped punishment. Giroud's tackle probably came in the right time for the ref. The red card was harsh. Giroud went for the ball, but his left foot went over the ball because his supporting right foot slipped. It was a foul, but should have been a yellow card at most.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Arsenal 0 Everton 0

It was disappointing to drop two points as we could have won this game. Nonetheless, it was not the worst result, which would have been Everton coming away with all three points. The results fell short of what we hoped for, but we are still in a strong position for the Champions League qualification with allegedly easier fixtures than those for Tottenham, Chelsea and Everton.

Going into this game, Arsenal were in sparkling form with four league wins on the trot. Arsene Wenger had plenty of selection headaches, most of which were described as "welcome". The only negative was the rib injury to Fabianski, who has been in more than decent form for the last five games. This called for Szczesny's return to the starting XI.

Rosicky's return from a hamstring injury was major good news ahead of this game. With the headline "Wenger - I rushed Jack back too quickly" on every newspaper, we thought Rosicky slotted back into the central attacking midfield position was an obvious answer to Wenger's selection headaches. Jack didn't look match-fit at all in the last game against Norwich and a breather would have done him no harm after a 6-week lay-off. Obviously, the boss thought giving him more games is the best way for the England midfielder to regain match-fitness.

Another surprise decision was for the left-back position. As Nacho was rested at the weekend, we thought he would get the nod for this game, but Kieran Gibbs continued in the starting XI. As a matter of fact, he had a good game, especially going forward.

Theo won a starting place on the right wing over Gervinho, but to our disappointment, the other two impact subs against Norwich started from the bench. Per was back in the central defence after suspension, alongside with the Kosh, which meant Vermaelen was dropped to bench again.

Everton deployed a very physical approach to stop Arsenal playing their football. Many agree that Gibson should have been sent off for his blatant body check on Theo as the Everton player had already been booked for his challenge on the same player. The referee's decisions didn't help protect Arsenal players at all and were inconsistent throughout the game. That said, we were pleased to see our players not let themselves bullied as they were accused of in the past. It certainly showed improvement on the physical side of our game.

Another positive from this game was our defence, although it was the Everton defence, especially Phil Jagielka, that won most of plaudits. Our back four looked solid and our two midfielders, Arteta and Ramsey, protected them well. They defended well as a unit. The first clean sheet in four games was a reassuring sign of defensive improvement going into the final 5 games of the season.

The focus of the post-match talks was on whether the only point from this game would be enough for Arsenal to secure a place in the next season's Champions League. Time will tell eventually, but we don't think there is any reason to be pessimistic at the moment. Chelsea and Tottenham will drop points as they still have to play each other. If we can get back to  winning ways as soon as possible, hopefully this Saturday when we face Fulham, our hopes of the top-four finish will survive this setback.

Player ratings

Szczesny: 7
Didn't put his foot wrong.

Sagna: 7
Had a decent game.

Mertesacker: 8
Battled hard against Anichebe.

Koscielny: 8
Made a crucial tackle and did everything to put off any Everton shots. 

Gibbs: 8
He was excellent going forward. Set up great situations for his team-mates and had a shot over the bar himself as well.

Ramsey: 8
Arsenal fans' Man of the Match for the second game running, according to Arsenal.com site's Fans Online Poll. This time he collected 52% of total votes, leading a runner-up, Santi (17%), by far. Stats show that he made most touches (99) and passes (75) of all the players on the pitch with a respectful 88% passing success rate. On the defensive side, he made 5 tackles and 2 interceptions, with 2 six-yard blocks. He was all over the pitch, showing his tenacity and commitment. Made a fine cross only for Giroud to slide it wide. Involved in a number of good attacking moves and got in good positions in the box as well. Many thought his performance against Norwich was his best of the season, but he was even more impressive in this game.

Arteta: 7
Did his usual job. But he gave away a foul in a dangerous place and was booked. 

Wilshere: 6
Made a couple of good moves in and around the box, but not fully match fit yet. Makes powerful runs with the ball through the middle which are exciting to watch but seems to lose his way.

Cazorla: 8
Made some incisive passes and his goal-bound shot was punched out by Tim Howard. Got himself in a good position to score, but his shot was blocked.

Walcott: 6
Had a poor game. Stats indicate how little he was involved in the game. In 68 minutes he played, he made 24 touches and 12 passes. We think he did not pose much threat to Everton's quick left-back, Baines. A couple of heavy tackles seem to put him out of the game.

Giroud: 6
He had at least three clear-cut chances and squandered them. Some accuse him of being lazy, but his problems are an ability to read the game and vision. He works hard for the team especially defensively in set-pieces, but he fails to make right moves in attack. We hope he will improve in his second season (17 goals so far in his first season is not a bad platform to build on), but he is not technically good enough to lead the line if Arsenal are to challenge for the title next season. We need to sign a technically more accomplished striker in the summer.


Oxlade-Chamberlain: 7
68th minute substitute to replace Theo Walcott. Much more effective than Theo. We like the Ox because he runs at defenders. Set up for Giroud to slide in, but his low cross was unfortunately blocked by the combination of Distin and Coleman.

Podolski: 7
68th minute substitute for Jack Wilshere. Made an impact again. He was involved in most of late Arsenal attacks and if Giroud had found him unmarked and passed the ball to him, the German striker would undoubtedly put it at the back of the net.

Monreal: 6
Baffling substitution in the 90th minutes. He came on to replace Gibbs, who was instrumental in our attack all through the evening, when we were pushing for a winner. Wenger cited "fatigue" as a reason for the withdrawing of Gibbs, but a more attacking option, for example, Rosicky, would have been more suited? Did slow down our attack (was he told to hang on for a goalless draw?) and was booked within 2 minutes of his arrival when he was caught out of position and had to foul the Everton player because of his lack of pace.


Neil Swarbrick: 5
Probably he was afraid of a possible criticism, "the decision killed the game", from neutrals, when he decided against a red card against Gibson, but he should have stuck to the rulebook. The Irish man's second foul on Theo was definitely another bookable offence. Poor decision.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Arsenal 3 Norwich 1

It wasn't a vintage performance from the Gunners or a comfortable viewing for us  Gooners, but you have to admire their spirit which made possible a comeback that looked impossible until the final 5 minutes of normal time.

In fact, at Las Mimosas bar, we were saying that we didn't look like scoring. Arsenal weren't clinical enough in front of the goal in the first half and their attack looked lacking cohesion with too many passes misplaced. It also lacked penetration as they tried to squeeze through the crowded middle with tight exchanges of passes. Four minutes after conceding a poor goal defensively early in the second half, Arsene Wenger brought on two subs in the 60th minute. The two players with a more direct approach injected energy and much-needed pace, but Arsenal were still not their usual fluent selves. Another sub was thrown into the game with 10 minutes left. In our opinion, the Ox should have come on much earlier. The young Englishman made a difference, especially when the Norwich defence started showing signs of tired legs.

Then, this controversial (only to the eyes of Norwich players and their fans) penalty decision came in the 85th minute. Replays show that there was a clear shirt-tug by Kei Kamara on Giroud, who was subsequently dragged to the ground. It was an intentional foul in the box, which warrants a penalty. There is an argument that this kind of fouls are so common these days and many of them go unpunished, but that does not mean that the penalty shouldn't have been given in this case.

Arteta coolly converted the spot kick and the second goal arrived three minutes later. The Ox was brilliant in the build-up play, combining with another sub, Poldi. Giroud said that he swore he "hit the ball", although Bassong probably had a touch on the ball as well. Hope the Dubious Goal Committee will award the goal to the French striker because he deserved it. As the boss said in his post-match interview, Giroud's first-half performance was "very, very average", but he was much more mobile in the second half and played a pivotal role in Arsenal's comeback as well as subs.

Fabianski still had to make crucial saves in the remainder of normal time. The sight of the board showing "6-minute" added time was met with our groans. It meant that we had to suffer a further 6 minute+ agonising time. However, our anxiety was short-lived. Poldi's beautiful strike from the edge of the box early in stoppage time ensured that three points were in the bag now.
It was an amazing game in perspective. Arsenal scored three goals in the final 7 minutes to come from behind to claim vital three points. Overall, the performance was nowhere near perfect, but the way they grabbed the win should strengthen their belief and confidence. After all, all that matters is the result at this time of the season. The win moved us to third in the table, a point clear of Chelsea, who have a game in hand, and Tottenham as their match was postponed this weekend. Tuesday's clash with Everton, who are still in the mix for the top-four race, will be a massive game for us. 

Player ratings

Fabianski: 7
Made a couple of crucial saves. He is a doubt for Tuesday's clash as he got a kick in the rib in this game.

Sagna: 7
A couple of good crosses. Did his job.

Koscielny: 7
Little trouble. It's difficult to point a finger at a single defender for the Norwich goal, but somebody should have attacked the free kick. Turner shouldn't have had a free header.

Vermaelen: 7
Kept Grant Holt quiet.

Gibbs: 6
His first start since the Bayern Munich game. Perhaps, more experienced and more defence-minded Monreal was rested for this game ahead of a more difficult clash with Everton on Tuesday night. It's good that Gibbs gets playing time every now and then. The free-kick against him, which led to Norwich's goal, shouldn't have been given as Kamara tripped himself. He got forward often, but his crosses were poor.

Ramsey: 8
Arsenal fans' Man of the Match according to Arsenal.com site's Fans Online Poll. Made 90 passes with a 90% passing success rate and 6 tackles. Got in a great position in the first half.

Arteta: 8
Made 105 passes with a staggering 95% passing success rate. Scored a goal from the spot-kick with great composure after all the tumult caused by Norwich players. Was part of BBC's Premier League team of the weekend. 

Wilshere: 6
He was probably rushed into the game too soon after 6-weeks' absence. He looked rusty with far too many passes going astray by his standard. Wenger admitted that Rosicky's injury forced him to slot the England midfielder straight into the Czech's place as the boss wanted to keep the shape of the successful team intact. Taken off the pitch in the 60 minutes.

Cazorla: 7
His astute pass released Gervinho behind the Norwich defensive line.

Gervinho: 6
He was Wenger's preferred option for the starting XI ahead of fit-again Theo Walcott, presumably on the back of the Ivorian's recent form. Theo is a better finisher with more defensive reliability. Gerv's confidence level might have been improved by now, but his final ball let him down again. In the glorious chance in the first half, his first touch was so heavy that by the time he reached the ball the angle was too narrow for him to deliver a shot on target. Perhaps, Giroud should have been in the box.
Giroud: 7
As the boss said, his movement improved a lot in the second half. Worked hard defensively as well for the team. Several sites chose him as a Man of the Match.


Walcott: 8
Replaced Gervinho on the right wing in the 60th minute. According to Sky Sports site, he was their Man of the Match as he was constantly a threat since he came off the bench. It's true that he had an impact when he came on, but we felt that his direct involvement in the game was limited. However, he provided an assist for Poldi, hence the high rating.

Podolski: 8
His introduction in the 60th minute, in place of Jack Wilshere, prompted Cazorla to move to central midfield in order to accommodate Poldi on the left flank. Heavily involved Arsenal's attack. Missed a great chance with a poor touch, but his powerful goal-bound shot forced a great save from Bunn, which subsequently hit the cross bar. Scored his 14th goal of the season. After the match, Wenger revealed that he was working with the German as a central striker. Interesting to see how it develops.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 8
Lively as usual. He contributed to his team's late comeback by delivering a low cross for Giroud after a beautiful movement on the left wing.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Arsenal 4 Reading 1

This game always looked set for a home win as we had enough quality to beat a relegation-threatened Reading side on paper even with the absence of Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott. However, a newly appointed manager always gives an extra boost, which was the unpredictable factor we feared. Nigel Adkins has already seen what would happen if his side let Arsenal play their game in Southampton's 6-1 defeat at the Emirates earlier this season. His new club has also seen Arsenal score against them 12 goals in their two previous meetings this season. Some of us expected Reading to sit back and contain Arsenal like many teams do when they visit the Emirates, while others predicted an open game as a point wouldn't be enough for Reading to keep their hopes of staying up.

On top of the possible 'new manager syndrome' effect on Reading, how the latest international break would affect us was another unknown factor. We had so many players involved in the World Cup qualifiers. Fortunately, most of them had a good international break, with Olivier Giroud, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Aaron Ramsey getting on the scoresheet for their respective countries, Nacho Monreal and Tomas Rosicky setting up goals, and Per Mertesacker and Thomas Vermaelen helping their respective national teams keep a clean sheet. Injuries picked up during international breaks have also been a cause for concern for us over the past years. Especially we used to sweat over a certain Dutchman's fitness, but this time Theo Walcott was the only casualty. Theo was released from the England squad due to a pelvic muscular strain he suffered in training, but he is expected to be back for the WBA game next weekend. Nonetheless, we still feared that the international break might disrupt our recent form, which was the league's second best after Manchester United's.

Arsene Wenger made four changes to the side who started in the defeat of Swansea two weeks ago. We expected the Ox to replace injured Theo on the right wing, but the boss had another idea. Gervinho was promoted from the bench to the starting line-up following his impressive performance as an impact sub in the Swansea match. We thought that the Ivorian should have a couple of more games as a sub to build up his confidence before he starts a game, but his display must have been good enough to convince Wenger that he was ready to start.

Much to our discontent, Lukas Podolski was not included in the starting XI despite being fully fit again. Amid speculations surrounding his future at Arsenal, this was a concerning sign. It is not fair to him if he is to be sold before he is given decent chances to prove himself in his preferred central striker role. Cazorla moved to the left flank from central midfield where he looked superb against Swansea. In fact, he drifted to the middle so often and his goal came from exactly there that we were not quite sure what his real role was in this game. We think he excels in central midfield when he is given space and freedom rather than the left wing.

Tomas Rosicky came in for an attacking central midfielder role, while Ramsey replaced Abou Diaby, who suffered a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament this week. Apparently, the team wore "Get well soon Abou" shirts in warm-up in their support to the hapless midfielder who is no stranger to serious injuries. (We missed all the build-up to the game because poor Joaquin couldn't put the game on the TV screen until kick-off despite having struggled since 10 o'clock in the morning) This time the injury is expected to keep the Frenchman out of action for eight to nine months. We feel sorry for him, but you cannot build a team around a player as injury-prone as him. Wenger has to discount Diaby when the Club go into the summer transfer window.

Elsewhere, fit-again Bacary Sagna replaced Carl Jenkinson, who successfully deputised the French defender in the last two games. In the past week, Arsenal.com's Online Opinion Poll asked which full-back partnership the fans prefer. The most popular pairing was Jenkinson-Gibbs, followed by Jennkinson-Monreal.

Arsenal's depth in the squad was often questioned over the past years, but it is encouraging to find that we can still produce this level of performance without key players such as Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott. Even Roy Hodgson acknowledged that England sorely missed Jack in their draw against Montenegro, but we have produced some impressive results and performances without him. In this game, we had Vermaelen left on the bench, while Gibbs, Poldi, and the Ox came off the bench.

It was a comfortable win for Arsenal and it could have been an even more emphatic scoreline if Gervinho had converted all the chances he had in the first half and had it not been for Reading's last-ditch blocks. That said, we enjoyed the Gunners' free-flowing football and were pleased with their spirit. They looked like they wanted it more than the Reading side who were battling against relegation. Especially, our midfielders chased every loose ball and did a great job of cutting off any supply for Reading's lone striker, Pavel Pogrebnyak. We must admit that Reading were poor on the day, but they were the side who caused Manchester United significant problems at Old Trafford and were unlucky to come away with nothing two weeks ago.

For us, Gooners, it was one of rare games we could watch comfortably. Although during the first half, we were worried if we might have to pay for our profligacy at the end of the game, it didn't take us long after the break to be reassured that three points were in the bag. Arsenal took full control of the game and dictated it from the beginning to the end. As Arsene Wenger said in the post-match interview, the right balance between defence and attack was the key.

The convincing win boosted our hopes of the top-four finish. Chelsea's loss to Southampton highlighted the fact that everybody can drop points anywhere in the run-in. We are now two points behind fourth-placed Chelsea with the same number of games played and four points adrift of third-placed Tottenham, but with a game in hand. The two teams will have to play each other, and before that Tottenham will face another top-four finish contenders, Everton, next Sunday only three days after their Europa League match. We have to continue our excellent run of form and win all those winnable games.

Player ratings

Fabianski: 7
He had little to do as Reading registered only two shots on target, one of which was an easy save for him.

Sagna: 8
Back into the team as soon as he is fit again. This must underline Wenger's faith in him despite all the rumours over his departure in the summer as his contract talks show little progress. Solid defensively, went forward to help attack on the right flank. Delivered a couple of good crosses as well. Overall, he made a solid return to the side. 

Mertesacker: 7 
Comfortable afternoon for the German defender.

Koscielny: 8
Made a crucial tackle.

Monreal: 6
He was not alert enough to spot Robson-Kanu's run. Replaced by Gibbs in 71st minute as a result of an injury when he collided with the post. Wenger confirmed that the Spain international should recover from a bruised hip in two or three days.

Ramsey: 8
Made 87 passes, including 4 key passes, with 90% passing success rate and an impressive 6 interceptions. His form has been improving steadily this season. His performance for the Walsh national team last weekend impressed many people. Unlucky not to score. One of his goal attempts was deflected wide, another forced a good save from Stuart Taylor.

Arteta: 8 
Completed 108 passes with 93% passing success rate. His incisive pass released Giroud, who should have been awarded a penalty. Scored from a spot-kick with calmness.

Rosicky: 7
Had a good game with quick purposeful passing and drive through the Reading defence.

Cazorla: 9
He was at heart of creativity. Scored his 12th goal in the Premier League with an exquisite curled finish.

Gervinho: 9
Although he missed a few clear-cut chances, scoring 1 and assisting 2 should justify the rating. He looked dangerous throughout the 75 minutes he spent on the pitch. His decisions for the final ball left a lot to be desired earlier in the season, but the one he made in the counter-attack was spot on. His well-weighed pass didn't even require Giroud a touch.

Giroud: 8
Well-taken goal, which was his 16th of the season. Not bad for his first season in English football. He is often accused of being static, but he was fairly mobile in this game. 


Gibbs: 6
Glad to see him make the bench after he had been sick for three days and was doubtful for this game. Made his 100th appearance for Arsenal when he came off the bench in 71st minute to replace injured Nacho.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 7
75th-minute substitute for Gervinho. Made an immediate impact by intercepting and running at the Reading defenders. Earned a penalty.

Podolski: 6
75th-minute substitute for Giroud. It was interesting to see how he played a central striking role, where he played only once in the season opener, but there was little time to make an impact.


Christ Foy: 5
Made three wrong decisions. Giroud should have had a penalty when Stuart Taylor clattered him. Mariappa handled the ball blatantly. The Ox was possibly fouled outside the box. However, it took a couple of replays to confirm where the foul was committed and the penalty may be a fair result after the two legitimate penalty claims were turned down. Good job these decisions didn't affect the outcome of the game.